Contraception Is the Gateway to Women's Sexual Liberation... Right?
Surveying Women on How Contraception Impacts Their Sex Lives
by Lucy Webb
The individual journey of sexual liberation is most definitely not a sexy one. Stumbling from weird teenage boys’ bedrooms with blue striped bed sheets their mum picked out, to knowing how to communicate what you want in the bedroom so you can get choked, rather than choking on your own words. But why do we find it so hard to just say what we want? Why do women feel like we are being entitled and difficult when explaining what we desire in bed? Women have been waving their arms up and down for centuries asking to be heard and the invention of modern day contraception has allowed us to finally express what we prefer when doing the dirty... right?
Image: Lucy Beck
The development of modern-day contraception - the pill, the IUD, the implant - could be argued to support the lifestyle of the 21st century sexually liberated woman. A more efficient way to have sex for any other reason than for reproduction surely champions the idea of women having sex - and, can you believe it - enjoying it! An article written by Angela Phillips for the Guardian highlights research around the invention of the pill and its effects on women’s sexual liberation. The researchers at Sheffield University seemed entirely dumbfounded that even since the introduction of contraception women expressed that they happen to enjoy sex in long term relationships as opposed to one night stands. I think their thesis: “Pill Popping Hussies: Why Women Who Take the Pill Just Love Bonking Men Off the Street and Literally Nothing Else” might be in the bin now…
I like to imagine one of the researchers saying: “weird, it didn’t turn them all into total slags?”
Angela’s argument in response to this was that the introduction of the pill was never embedded in the need to give women permission to have sex without exchanging vows, but to unshackle them financially from men. In the past, prior to the pill and modern western abortion laws, women would have to risk either paying for expensive (not to mention dangerous) backstreet abortions or being financially dependant on a man to help support the child. Although I do agree with Angela’s argument, I do think the introduction of modern contraception such as the pill has helped women become more sexually liberated. The assurance of the pill definitely takes away the responsibility and worry of attaching more strings than necessary to a sexual encounter.
"I'm not saying it's easy peasy, give-the-lube-bottle a squeezy to channel your inner sexual goddess"
So, pants off, let’s all go get lucky, right? If only it was that simple. An article written in Cosmopolitan in April 2020 called ‘How to ask for what you want in bed during sex’ titled its first subheading as “Remember, sex is meant to feel good for you too.” I’m not saying it's "easy peasey, give-the-lube-bottle-a-squeezy" to channel your inner sexual goddess, but surely we know how to ask for what we want. Or maybe we don’t even know what we want. There is no sexier sentence than “what are you into?” It communicates that your sexual partner is aware of your needs and wants to hear what can make your sexual experience as pleasurable as possible.
I went to Instagram and asked women who saw my story to message me if they could answer the following questions in regards to sex and contraception:
Do you find it easy to communicate what you want during sex?
Do you think contraception makes it easier to communicate what you want during sex?
Do you think contraception has allowed you to approach sex in a more casual way?
Around 15 cisgender women responded to my Instagram research project and concluded quite similar ideas. Most women agreed that contraception, whether it be the coil or a more short-term form of contraception like the pill, meant that they felt more at ease going into sexual encounters, in the confidence that they didn’t need to worry about a possible unwanted pregnancy.
"Most agreed that confidence was nurtured and given the opportunity to grow in long term relationships, whereas when single, they found it hard to say what they want during sex."
As for being able to communicate sexual needs, most agreed that confidence was nurtured and given the opportunity to grow in long term relationships, whereas when single, they found it hard to say what they want during sex. When asked if contraception had any effect on their ability to communicate their needs in the bedroom, most agreed that contraception allowed them to feel like the responsibility of being ‘safe’ wasn’t weighing them down during sex, therefore meaning sex was more spontaneous and carefree. However, contraception itself didn’t have a direct affect on communication during sex, but rather other factors, like increased confidence and trust between them and their sexual partner.
So what can we take away from all of this? Scientifically speaking, contraception does the job (most of the time) of regulating our periods and keeping us very much not-pregnant. But does it liberate us sexually? We can conclude that contraception has finally given us a leg up and made casual sex a much more viable option for women. Unfortunately, we should maybe hold off contacting the World Health Organisation just yet asking for a rebranding as the Sexual Goddess Awakening Pill.
However, contraception is freedom from being linked to your sexual partner for longer than the 3-30 minutes intended, contraception is freedom from financial burden and anchor for the next 18 years, contraception is freedom from the sole responsibility of the possible consequence of some man’s ejaculation. And freedom is sexy as fuck.
Lucy Webb is 23 years old, and works for a social media company. She also has her own true crime podcast, which you can find at @deadtalkpodcast over on Instagram.